Witching Hours” – A Review of Hades 2

Hades II is an ambitious expansion of all the ideas that came before it, balancing them beautifully to create one of the best roguelites on the market even in its incomplete state.

By Alessandro Barbosa

Twitter: @CaptionBarbosa

on May 22, 2024 at 10:10PM PDT

Just like the first game, Hades 2 has launched first in early access, allowing developer Supergiant Games to delicately tweak and balance gameplay, as well as add new content before its full launch. Hades 2, however, feels like a complete product right now. With satisfying combat that has far more depth than its predecessor ever managed, it raises the question: what’s left to refine? It’s significantly larger than the first game too, with more areas to explore, different routes to take, and a much bigger story to tell. If it wasn’t for its (currently) missing ending and a few placeholders here or there, Hades 2 could already emphatically be declared as a brilliant successor to one of the greatest rougelites out there. Hades 2 improves upon its predecessor in every way, making it a masterfully crafted sequel.

Instead of playing as Zagreus again, you play as his sister Melinoe, who was born after the events of the first game. Her family has been lost to the underworld, after the titan Chronos usurps the throne and takes over Hades’ domain. Melinoe, saved from the unknown fate of her family, has been raised to realize one simple goal: Death to Chronos. With the help of her mentor, fellow titan Hecate, and a cast of new and returning gods, shades, and all those in between, Hades 2 sets out strongly from the get go with a story that is gripping to watch unfold between runs.

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For all of its enhancements, Hades 2 might not appear or feel noticeably distinct at first glance. Melinoe moves with identical speed and elegance as her brother, though with a few minor adjustments. Melinoe’s tactic is less reliant on dash, with a prolonged cooldown between her quick movements that can initially feel foreign. However, this is counterbalanced by a heightened emphasis on maintaining velocity through sprinting, which can be initiated by pressing the dash button immediately after executing it. Such sprint not only allows for damage avoidance, but also presents additional offensive options. Some adversaries are specifically designed to challenge over-reliance on dash, to motivate a shift in approach. The sprinting technique can also be enhanced with boons, similar to your standard attacks, allowing your sprinting to inflict enemies with Zeus’ lightning, or repel groups of them with Poseidon’s strong waves. This substantial shift is a representation of how Hades 2 seeks to evolve a robust, established formula by making small, at times experimental, adjustments that greatly impact gameplay.

No change is more apparent than the enlargement of Melinoe’s offensive arsenal. She keeps three options that her brother possessed – standard, special, and cast attacks. Your weapon of choice before run informs both the standard and special attacks. The variation in this is already delightful, with the starting Witch Staff providing a harmonious balance between safe ranged melee strikes. Others, such as the Sister Blades, demand a daring approach due to their limited range, necessitating infiltration into enemy territory before tactful withdrawal. In addition to her weaponry, Melinoe’s cast is more intricate than Zagreus’ clumsy red diamond projectile. Consistent with her witch abilities, Melinoe can cast a circular boundary that momentarily entraps enemies, thus proving to be an effective crowd control strategy at its initial tier. Divine boons can drastically transform it, allowing defensive snares to evolve into más offensive area effect spells that annihilate large enemy groups or inflict harmful curses. When combined with additional boons that augment your standard weapons, you can concoct a lethal mixture of skills. The five currently available weapons and the new standard casting ability in Hades II lets you vary your runs based on pre-selected equipment, ensuring each run is tactically engrossing and rewarding.

Within the sequel to Hades, weapons no longer stand as the only means of differentiation in combat situations. Melinoe, for instance, can now take advantage of an Omega attack, a powerful addition to her existing three combat abilities. Omega attacks tend to differ with each weapon and usually require a short preparation time. These attacks add an extra layer of strategy to the gameplay by ensuring they are used tactically. An example of the variety of Omega attacks can be seen in the differences between the Witch Staff and the Sister Blades. The former allows damage to be inflicted in a circular range, while the latter grants teleportation abilities during an Omega attack. Omega abilities use magic to function, requiring careful management during the game for maximum efficiency. Unlike previous versions, magic now replenishes automatically with each new room, encouraging players to maximize its use rather than saving it for later bosses. Omega attacks and the newly integrated magic system greatly alter the dynamics of the game, making the previous version seem mundane in comparison.

Melinoe can diversify her combat tactics due to the variety of gifts bestowed upon her by different Greek gods. These gods, such as Aphrodite, Hermes, and even newer ones like Hestia and Hera, present her with novel strategies and abilities. For instance, Hestia offers flame-damage boons, and Hera grants a unique Hitch curse that simultaneously damages marked enemies. These boons allow for diverse gameplay opportunities, and with amplified tactical options, there’s increased depth to the builds in Hades 2. Although random combinations can sometimes result in a disadvantageous run, the improved combat dynamics and enhancement possibilities lead to fewer unsuccessful runs compared to the original game.

The latest installation of Hades has been hailed as a superior successor to one of the most popular rougelites, improving upon its original version in every sense and establishing itself as a well-designed sequel.

The additional depth in combat strategy is made exciting by the inclusion of new enemies that necessitate swift adaptation to the new combat avenues. Boss encounters prove to be particularly thrilling, offering mid-level bosses that require frequent encounters, and final bosses that conclude each biome with a climactic fight. Each boss has a unique theme and they present the greatest challenge in the game. One remarkable encounter is the battle against Scylla and the Sirens which provides the player with a musically infused, multi-layered fight. The game’s soundtrack, composed by Darren Korb and featuring Ashley Barrett’s vocals, provides an intense backdrop to the high-octane gameplay.

Each of Hades 2’s biomes marks a departure from the first game’s environments, offering a refreshing change for players mainly journeying through Hades’ depths. Alternate routes lead to vibrant, character-filled new areas, shining a spotlight on Supergiant’s unique art style. Traversing Hades’ depths isn’t the only path available, with an entirely different route available several hours into the game. This choice and the additional content enhances Supergiant’s ambition with its first-ever sequel.

Most of your time will be spent navigating dungeons, but Hades 2 also emphasizes what you do between your runs. The Crossroads, located between Mount Olympus’ base and Hades’ depths, provides various base-building options influencing your efficiency during runs. Players can unlock new Crossroads parts and helpful shops, grow specific seeds that blossom while you’re away, and recruit familiars and train to better prepare for each run.

The new arcana card system central to character progression replaces the first game’s sometimes one-dimensional upgrade mirror. Comprising a huge tree of unlockable arcana cards, each card provides some advantage during your run. The number of acarna cards you can use is determined by your Grasp, which can be increased using a separate resource. The system encourages players to balance which cards to equip, enhancing game strategy. More cards and Grasp allow a larger advantage during a run, increasing your chances of victory.

Interactions with various characters at the Crossroads are crucial to Hades 2’s story. The narrative incorporates every player action and makes it seem like the script is being updated in real-time. New characters at the Crossroads, such as the shade Dora, Odysseus, and Nyx’s offsprings, add to the game’s engaging narrative, blending urgency and humor.

Currently in an early access phase, there’s room for many of the game mechanics to evolve. Supergiant, the game’s developer, has already shown their willingness for significant adjustments through their first update. Initially, gathering resources was relegated to a single tool players could unlock, limiting the resources they could accrue during a run. However, this system has been completely overhauled. Now, players can gather any resource for which they’ve unlocked a tool, regardless of whether they’re equipped with it or not. Preferred tools simply increase the chance of their associated resource appearing. This change has significantly curtailed excessive early-game grinding, allowing players to progress faster and alter the game’s balance. Although Supergiant plans to finalize Hades 2 next year, it’s uncertain how many more changes will occur, but it’s clear that even this seemingly finished product can still be refined.

Looking ahead, Hades 2 will incorporate another area, extra weapons, and more character art. Importantly, the game’s conclusion is yet to be revealed. Despite this, the current version of the game offers an absorbing experience. This starkly contrasts with the initial launch of the first game, which seemed premature and needed almost two years to reach full fruition. Already, Hades 2 stands out as one of the top roguelite games available, with thoughtful enhancements that underscore its prime features. Importantly, it performs this without needing players to be experts of the previous game, whilst still providing a fresh challenge for veterans who’ve spent many hours navigating the first game’s toughest challenges. I find Hades 2 to be a thrilling game to play daily, and it’s exciting to consider how it might continue to improve over time.

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